The National Historic Chemical Landmarks program (www.acs.org/landmarks) has been celebrating its 30th anniversary through a social media campaign. The program also designated six new sites this year. Established by the American Chemical Society in 1992, this program grants landmark status to major achievements in the history of the chemical sciences. The program aims to enhance public appreciation for the chemical sciences’ contributions to modern life and to encourage chemists’ pride in the science’s rich history.
To commemorate the program’s 3 decades, ACS highlighted a different landmark each day throughout November via posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
To date, 95 chemical landmarks have been designated, principally in the US. The first, in 1993, honored Leo Hendrick Baekeland and the invention of Bakelite, the world’s first completely synthetic plastic. Other notable people and advances that have been recognized include Joseph Priestley and the discovery of oxygen; Rachel Lloyd, the first American woman to earn a doctoral degree in chemistry; the discovery and development of penicillin; the legacy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; the discovery of transuranium elements at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; the development of Tide synthetic detergent; the discovery of fullerenes; and St. Elmo Brady, the first Black person in the US to receive a PhD in chemistry.
To mark the designation of a new landmark, ACS presents the host organization with a bronze plaque at a dedication ceremony and publishes a booklet and web page that outline the history and context of the achievement.
Typically, one to three landmarks are designated each year, but 2022 featured a bumper crop:
▸ Oesper Collections in the History of Chemistry: The dedication event at the University of Cincinnati recognized one of the world’s largest curated collections of scientific artifacts, books, journals, photographs, and prints related to the history of chemistry. It drew attention from several elected officials, including a proclamation from the Ohio governor declaring an Oesper Collections in the History of Chemistry Week. The dedication ceremony featured video remarks by ACS president Angela K. Wilson.
▸ Raney nickel: Wilson also provided video remarks for the dedication at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) for Raney nickel, one of the world’s most widely used catalysts. Other speakers included the university’s vice chancellor and a representative from W. R. Grace, which makes the catalyst. The day after the ceremony, the UTC Department of Chemistry and Physics held its annual award banquet. The audience of students and parents were told about the landmark and shown a display of common products made with Raney nickel.
▸ Ames Laboratory and uranium production in World War II: The dedication ceremony at Ames National Laboratory of Iowa State University was timed to tie in with the lab’s 75th anniversary celebration. After a welcome by lab director Adam Schwartz, Peter Dorhout, Iowa State’s vice president for research and a former ACS president, spoke about the history of the lab from his personal experience. ACS District V director Lisa Balbes, who has long-standing ties with the lab and Iowa State, gave remarks on behalf of ACS.
▸ George Eastman, Kodak, and the birth of consumer photography: Speakers at the ceremony at the Kodak Center included Wilson; Terry Taber, Eastman Kodak’s chief technical officer; and Patrick Cunningham, the deputy mayor of Rochester, New York. The event took place during the ACS Northeast Regional Meeting, which featured symposia on advanced materials and technologies at Kodak and on a century of Kodak research.
▸ Discovery of highly active antiretroviral therapy for HIV: ACS CEO Thomas Connelly represented ACS at the ceremony at the Merck & Co. campus in West Point, Pennsylvania. The event honored the development of the combination treatments that have saved millions of lives worldwide and, for those with access to treatment, transformed what once seemed an undefeatable pandemic into a manageable chronic disease.
▸ Invention of warfarin: The ceremony at the University of Wisconsin–Madison honored warfarin, a groundbreaking blood thinner and rat poison. Speakers included Balbes; Erik Iverson, the CEO of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the agency that funds research at the university using revenues from warfarin and other inventions; and Doug Moe, who has written a biography of Karl Paul Link, the professor who headed the team that discovered warfarin.
National Historic Chemical Landmark pages are among the most popular on ACS’s website. To extend outreach further, the program began translating landmark materials into other languages in 2020. So far, the web pages for 10 landmarks have been translated into Spanish, and more will become available next year. The Spanish pages have been hugely successful and now account for more than 20% of traffic on the entire landmark website. The most visited page (about penicillin) was also translated into Mandarin and Arabic earlier this year. Additional translations are planned for those languages in 2023.
For many years, the society has also created lesson plans related to some of the landmarks. This year, those lesson plans were moved to their own page on the website for the American Association of Chemistry Teachers. Next year, additional ones will be added to the current set of 16.
Nominations for prospective ACS landmarks are sponsored by an ACS local section, division, or committee; reviewed by the National Historic Chemical Landmarks Subcommittee; and approved by the Committee on Public Affairs and Public Relations, which acts on behalf of the ACS Board of Directors.
To be eligible for recognition, prospective landmark achievements must represent a key advance in the chemical sciences in the US, provide a significant contribution and benefit to society and the chemical profession, have occurred at least 25 years ago, and be readily understood by the general public. Additional information can be found on the nominations web page. Inquiries about submitting nominations that meet these criteria are welcome at email@example.com.
Sophie Rovner is a senior science writer at ACS.